Business, Living Wenatchee, Tourism

McGlinn’s: Delicious Food with a Big Helping of Authenticity

Every morning at 5 a.m., three cooks arrive at McGlinn’s in downtown Wenatchee to start prepping. That’s the only way they have the time to make the food from scratch to be sure it’s ready when doors open at 11 a.m. for lunch and later for dinner.

McGlinn’s has a wide range of food choices that could be considered a modern, high quality twist on traditional American fare, including wood-fired pizzas, original and locally sourced salads, pastas, hot sandwiches, local beers and wines, and a dessert menu with more than a dozen offerings. They’re famous for their homemade beer bread, their wood-fired jojos, and the ambiance made possible by an old-fashioned floor-to-ceiling bar, brick walls and a new outdoor seating area that makes you forget you’re on the edge of a busy street. The bustling restaurant is known for its great food, great customer service and an attention to detail that’s hard to beat.

Owner Michael Bendtsen is no stranger to good food. He grew up in a house where his mother cooked simple, delicious food from scratch, and he took her lessons to heart, making coffee cakes and other goodies for the family in the mornings before school. At 20 he decided to open his first restaurant, offering turkey sandwiches and homemade soups. McGlinn’s, which Bendtsen opened in 1991, was his fourth restaurant in North Central Washington, and there’s no sign this cornerstone to the Wenatchee food scene is going anywhere anytime soon.

 

Bendtsen says that the key to owning a successful restaurant is continuing to grow and change. Under his leadership, McGlinn’s has been a pioneer in the local restaurant scene throughout the years. They prohibited smoking before it was legally enforced; they had the third espresso machine in the valley, and began offering only Washington wines in 1984, when there were few wineries in the entire state. McGlinn’s was the first in Wenatchee to put craft beers on tap, and began using locally sourced produce before it was popular.

“We did local way before it was cool, for the right reasons,” Bendtsen said.

He smiles when he talks about the doubts other restaurants had about him. He’d hear from his distributors that there were bets about whether or not his latest changes would cause McGlinn’s to go under.

“Nobody’s ever going to buy that crap,” they said.

It wasn’t just other restaurants, either. He began serving heirloom tomatoes from his own garden in the restaurant before people knew what heirlooms were; people would send the food back, thinking that the tomatoes weren’t ripe because they weren’t perfectly tomato red.

Nevertheless, innovation and change are important part of Bendtsen’s business model.

“You gotta forever change,” Bendtsen said. “We’re all about nurturing the adventure by offering something different.”

Bendtsen is all about what’s real and authentic. Even when it’s happening behind the scenes, his patrons are enjoying an attention to detail that often means putting quality and experience above profitability.

For example, he once removed an extremely popular beer from their lineup because he discovered that there was nothing natural about the “natural” apricot flavor in it. He thinks restaurant owners have a responsibility to the people they serve – to make sure they’re giving them quality food that isn’t made unhealthy just to cut costs.

“Our desire is to do good and give back,” said Bendtsen. “You want your guests to experience good memories. It’s not always tangible, but you want to include that care and love you want people to feel when they come here.”

Bendtsen’s latest focus is providing the perfect amount of food to his customers. McGlinn’s has recently started offering items a la carte, which has caused some grumbling among diners. His goal is to both give customers more options – now they can choose whether they want beer bread added to their meal or not, or another side of their choice – and also to reduce the amount of waste McGlinn’s saw with the larger portion sizes. Plus, Bendtsen swears he can hear it in the restaurant’s tone – people were happier when they weren’t so full. As an added bonus, many suddenly had room to try one of the many desserts on the menu.

Bendtsen’s commitment to quality also extends to his staff, many of whom have worked at McGlinn’s for more than 20 years. At the yearly employee party, he adds up how many years of restaurant experience the staff has altogether. He says the last time he counted, the McGlinn’s staff had nearly 400 years of experience among them.

Ultimately, his goal to stay authentic has paid off, both for his customer base and for his employees.

“Especially in the world we’re living in, we don’t know what’s real,” he says. “You can find better anywhere, but we’re not trying to be the best. We’re trying to be real, and the best we can be.”

Morgan Fraser

Morgan Fraser is a North Central Washington native with a penchant for travel, interesting stories and fresh local food. After traveling the globe and living in several different countries, Morgan found the community, fresh water swimming and laid back mountain lifestyle in Leavenworth too enticing to resist. She teachers Spanish and is the author of two regional wine-pairing cookbooks and a travel memoir.

Favorite quote: "If I could tell the world just one thing it would be: we are all ok. And not to worry, because worry is wasteful and useless in times like these." -- Jewel
Favorite color: the clear blue of a glacier-fed lake or river
Favorite apple: galas, fresh off the tree first thing in the morning